Oriskany

(Deb) Welcome to Around Kansas from the USS Oriskany Reunion here at the Combat Air Museum. And with me is Tom Sparks, my body guard who is watching over this incredible model that we have behind us. We’re gonna visit with some of the men who served on the Oriskany, some of the men that made the model. And one who was on the real ship a month ago. Stay with us.Closed Captioning Brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission. The Soybean Checkoff Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.

(Deb) Welcome to Around Kansas from the Combat Air Museum where the reunion of the Oriskany crew is going on right now. And with me is Richard Painter, who had a lot to do with making this reunion happen. Richard, this is a phenomenal evening. (Richard) It’s been super. The model is super. The food’s been super. It’s just been great. (Deb) Now you were on the Oriskany for a couple of years. So, where were you sailing around the world? (Richard) We were in the South China Sea, off the coast of Vietnam. I made the 1965 cruise and the 1966 cruise. I got off about three weeks before the fire in 1966. (Deb) So, your time on the Oriskany, were you on another ship or was that it for your Navy service? (Richard) No. I started in a VR Squadron, which was a transport squadron in Alameda, California, my first two years in the Navy. And then I went aboard the Oriskany and I spent my last two years there. (Deb) So, what has been so special about this event? And I know you have been working on this for a long, long time. (Richard) I got a lot of friends in the Oriskany Reunion Group. I became real good friends with the captain, who passed away and when I was doing this reunion I got a call from Chicago from the XO that was on the ship when I was on there. And I got to talk to him. And so it’s just been super to do. (Deb) You have come in contact with a lot of people that obviously you didn’t serve with. So, you’ve got all different eras represented here tonight, right? (Richard) We have a plank owner who was on in 1950, who is 93 years old, all the way up to some of the guys who were on when she was decommissioned in 1976. (Deb) So, tell me about the Oriskany’s life. What did she do? (Richard) When we were off the coast of Vietnam we worked 16 hour days on the flight deck and we worked seven days a week. And if another ship broke down and it was our turn to go in we had to stay out and it was… I worked on the flight deck, seeing lots of things. (Deb) I’m sure. I’m sure. Now the reunion is this going to be an annual thing here and having this in Topeka? Is this gonna happen here from now on? (Richard) No, next year we go to Nebraska, to Lincoln. And two years from now we go to Lafayette, Louisiana. (Deb) Wow. (Richard) And then next year we will vote for the year after. So, I’ve been going to the reunions since 1999. And we vote for two years down the road normally. (Deb) Well, this has got to be a real special one with the unveiling of the model tonight. (Richard) It’s very special. And it was very moving for a lot of the guys. I’ve seen lots of tears. (Deb) Well, it is beautiful. And it’s great to visit with you and you know what, when you go to Louisiana, we may just follow you down there. (Richard) That’s fine. I love that Cajun food. (Deb) Me too. We’ll be right back.

(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas and we have one of the gentlemen that made that incredible model you saw out there happen. Thousands of hours. What is it, like 5,000 hours that went into this? (Larry) Not quite, I myself, put 4,400. Between the other two guys we have right around 4,800 plus over a seven year period. (Deb) Wow, why? I guess that is the overriding… why, why would you do that? (Larry) Well because it is something I’ve always wanted to do because I’m a master model builder anyway, ship builder. And a long time ago I saw a group of guys in a magazine article that built a model for a museum and I always thought that would be a nice thing to do. And Dick Trupp here at the museum gave me the opportunity to fill one of my bucket list things. (Deb) Well, it’s an incredible model and that’s just got to mean so much to the people who served on that ship to see that model. What an amazing thing. What was the most difficult part of it? (Larry) Trying to work without plans. You know, just drawings, no technical data, no measurements, no nothing. We just had to kind of just use our master skills to go from there. You know you pick out one item like a photograph that has a sailor in it and you just estimate how tall he is and then you just work the measurements into all of his surroundings and you go from there. (Deb) Well if that had been Richard it would have really thrown you off wouldn’t it? (Larry) Yeah, he’s a little guy, yeah. I based it basically on a six-foot sailor. And that’s what I took my measurements from. (Deb) Now, the model if I recall is one-one hundredths scale, is that right? (Larry) No, that’s the airplane scale. The model itself is one-ninety sixths. In other words it’s one-eight inch equals a foot. That’s HO scale. People that are in modeling and railroading and whatever, they know that scale. So, it’s HO scale. (Deb) Now, why was that chosen? Any magic to that number? (Larry) Well no, we based it on the size of the hull that we started with, the training A. And that’s what it came out to. That was the closest scale to represent it in. Because there’s after market products that we can get like some of the figures, the railings and stuff that go on it. There’s places that we ship modelers can get that stuff in that particular scale. (Deb) The… moving the model you said was pretty nerve racking, it had to be. (Larry) Yes, it was. But it did go very, very smooth. Still you know, when you’re babysitting something like that, you know it like I said that 60 miles is a long 60 miles. (Deb) No kidding. So, how did you… did somebody hold it, did you strap it in, what did you do? (Larry) The gentleman that we used his van, he kind of built a framework inside the van, based on dimensions that they had come out earlier and taken. And they built a little platform and they used clamps to kind of hold it together and we just set the model on that and I made sure it didn’t bounce around, but the weight of the model proved that we didn’t need to worry about that. The model weighs right around 100 pounds or more. (Deb) Well, it’s amazing. You’ve got to be so proud tonight. (Larry) I’m very happy. I just hope it gets the reception we intend. Because like I said in my speech, we hope this is a monument to those guys that served on it. And we’ve gotten a pretty good response so far tonight, so I feel pretty good about it. (Deb) Well, doing that for the museum, what an incredible thing to do. You know, it’s a great thing that’s gonna be around for a long time. (Larry) Yep. I hope so. (Deb) We’ll be right back.

(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas and we’re at the reunion of the Oriskany in Combat Air Museum in Topeka. And Bill, it’s great to have you with us. And so tell me about your time on the Oriskany and what you did. (Bill) Well, I was on the Oriskany from 1968 through 1971. I went to the ship as an airman. I had a couple of years of college and somewhere up there I owe a personnel officer who called me down and said, “Do you really want to load bombs on planes?” And I said, “I would like to be a weather man.” And he says, “Go on up.” And it changed my life forever. I became an Aerographer Mate Second Class E5; got out of the Navy and got a job with the National Weather Service and retired with 42 years of service. (Deb) Wow. Now when you stepped on deck of the Oriskany, had you been on a ship like that before? (Bill No I’d never been on a ship like that. I had a couple of uncles that had been in the Navy. My Dad actually was a ball turret gunner on a B-17. (Deb) Wow. (Bill) Had 36 missions over Europe. But when the time came the Navy said it was going to be an adventure and it was. (Deb) Holy cow. So, weatherman, that seems like a real simple job. But what were you doing? Tell me about what a day was like. (Bill) Well, usually we worked 12 on, 12 hours off. Plus you would have working parties. One of our jobs would be to take weather observations, which would be writing down temperatures, humidity, your altimeter settings. We would also measure temperature of the water. We would put out forecasts for the pilots. (Deb) Now, the temperature of the water, what difference does that make? (Bill) Well, it was just one of the duties because we know that water surface temperature, water temperature can affect climate. So that was just one of the other elements that we would measure. We would also report swells. So you would report on what the ocean was like, looking like. So, there was a lot of different things that we did. We launched weather balloons. I’ve launched many balloons off of the Oriskany. And all those in my yearbook showing me and a friend who also retired from the Weather Service, so that’s one of my more precious things, is us doing that. So, we would measure the upper atmosphere also, releasing radio signs on balloons. (Deb) And then did you prepare reports for pilots? Was that part of your job? (Bill) Right. One of our jobs…all around the world people are taking observations. The observers send those observations in and we plot those on maps. From plotting those on maps we can now do different charts like your surface charts where you’ve got highs and lows. So, it’s all… be it a matter of measuring the atmosphere, coming up with a forecast and then a division officer would go down there and he would actually brief the pilots. (Deb) So, would that be like, this is what it’s like. Or we’re gonna pull the mission because it’s too bad. Would that happen or was it most of the time you go and this what you’re gonna be dealing with. (Bill) The weather was a factor, so they could have changed missions based on the weather. We didn’t really know that. We just do the briefing and they would make that decision on whether they would carry on the mission. But, definitely weather is a factor. And today pilots are still briefed on what the weather conditions are. (Deb) Wow. Really important job. Bill, thank you so much. We’ll be right back. Stay with us.

(Deb) OK, I’m back here at the Combat Air Museum with Tom Gorrell, who is one of the regulars here at the museum, keeps the program spinning here. And Tom, you got to actually dive at the Oriskany site and I don’t think we’ve talked about that before, what the fate of the Oriskany was. So, why don’t you tell us that and what it was like to visit it. (Tom) Well, of all the people that are here today, I’m probably the most recent one to be on the Oriskany. I dove on it about a month ago today. The Oriskany was sunk as an artificial reef off the coast of Pensacola, Florida where it currently sits about 22 miles off the coast. And I went out with a group of individuals and we took a couple dives on the Oriskany. And to me diving the Oriskany like most other dives I do, is just a matter of the thrill of exploration. And in this case the exploration of history and being able to imagine what was going on on the ship and people moving around the ship. But seeing it in a completely different light and in the depths of the ocean and water that’s not perfectly clear at the time. But it was an enjoyable… the two dives were very enjoyable. (Deb) So, how deep is the Oriskany? (Tom) It sets on the bottom at a little over 200 feet, I think it’s about 205. The top of the island structure is 85 feet below the surface and the deck of the Oriskany would be about 140 feet. (Deb) So, what does it look like down there? Are there like…cause I’ve never been diving…so have you got like colonies of fish living in it? I mean what does it look like? (Tom) There are fish and there’s some crustaceans and various things. The dive I was on there was an octopus tucked away in a little hole and we could try to coax it out and there was a barracuda and there were other fish that were swimming around too. But mostly on a dive like that you’re really just imaging what it would have been like when it was in service. And just enjoying being part of an environment that a lot of people aren’t able to see. The water was not very clear, it was pretty low visibility that day. (Deb) So, can you go inside? (Tom) You can go inside the island structure. To go inside the ship itself would require extra tanks and a lot more equipment than I would have had with me at that time. Because when you start getting to those kind of depths it just takes a lot of other precautions you have to take too. (Deb) Now, is this a popular dive site? (Tom) It’s popular. But this was my fourth attempt to go down there and the first three ended in poor weather conditions or poor water conditions. So, I don’t think it’s proven out quite as successfully as the local community had hoped. Because it takes an hour and a half to get out and an hour and a half to get back and about three hours on site. So, they don’t go out there unless they’re sure they’re gonna have good weather for the whole time. But, yeah it was a… it was one of my bucket list items. So I’ve checked that off. (Deb) Wow. (Tom) Might have to do it again sometime. (Deb) Well, what an amazing experience. And like you said with all the guys here who put in time and then you’ve been on it the most recently, that’s pretty cool. (Tom) And I wasn’t even in the Navy. (Deb) So, what was your service? (Tom) I was in the Air Force. (Deb) Well, you’re pretty lucky they let you in tonight aren’t you?

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